Opinion | Will the ‘Flint governor’ also undo Michigan water protections?

Mike Shriberg is the Great Lakes regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation and a member of the Governor’s Pipeline Safety Advisory Board

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

Gov. Rick Snyder, whose legacy is forever tarnished by the Flint water crisis, has one final chance to stand up for the Great Lakes, our drinking water and our way of life.

The governor has put himself in a precarious place. He sealed the deal on an ill-conceived tunnel scheme for a risky oil pipeline. And to get that, he’s being asked to sign legislation that would undo clean water protections for Michigan’s roughly 10 million men, women and children. That’s opened a Pandora’s Box of bad legislation attempting to roll back protections for our drinking water, public health and natural resources.

The question is: Will the governor do what’s right for Michigan and the Great Lakes and veto these bills, or will he leave office as the governor who buried his head in the sand as families in Flint were being contaminated by toxic lead, and then allowed the rest of Michigan’s water to be contaminated?

Related: In lame duck, all eyes are on Michigan’s governor
Updated daily: Michigan Lame Duck Tracker

What seems to be driving the governor is the passage of SB 1197, legislation that attempts to keep Line 5 operating along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac for at least the next decade. [Editor’s note: Snyder signed the bill Wednesday.] This misguided legislation ignores the fact that Line 5 is in poor condition, that Enbridge can’t be trusted with the Great Lakes and that Line 5 is not critical energy infrastructure for Michigan.

As a Snyder appointee to the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board, I’m often asked about why the governor seems driven to lock in Line 5. I can’t speak to his motivations, but if he thinks that passing SB 1197 is positive for his Great Lakes and water legacy, he is sorely mistaken and clearly not getting advice from those who care about our drinking water and natural resources.

HB 4205 would take away the state’s ability to adopt any environmental protection more stringent than federal standards. As the Great Lakes state, this gives away our ability to protect our waters and people. Why would anyone handcuff the state of Michigan from protecting its citizens from pollution and toxic contamination? Snyder has thankfully vetoed this once, but it’s likely to come to his desk again. It’s unclear how he will react since he is actively negotiating with the legislature on SB 1197.

The Wetlands Destruction Act, SB 1211, is an even more direct attack on Michigan’s water resources. Wetlands feed streams, rivers, and ultimately the Great Lakes, which supply drinking water to communities around the state. SB 1211 would allow for the destruction of wetlands. It’s hard to imagine a bigger threat to clean drinking water. SB 1211 has already passed the Senate and could make it to Snyder’s desk next week.

SB 1244 restricts scientists at our state agencies from using the best science to protect our drinking water. This would make our state even more vulnerable to the PFAS crisis. We need more research, increased monitoring, and better science to protect our water, not draconian restrictions on the use of science.

Finally, there is a suite of bills designed to limit the powers of the incoming governor, secretary of state and attorney general to carry out the basic functions of government. There are also bills that roll back worker’s rights and attempt to bypass ballot proposals. These “sore loser bills” are anti-democracy, anti-clean water, anti-work and anti-Great Lakes.

The governor has publicly pledged to work until his last day in office. The question is whether he will be working on the side of big polluters who have a strong grip on this outgoing legislature and are calling in years of favors that put our Great Lakes, drinking water and democracy at risk. Or will he try to take a little of the sting out of his Flint legacy by standing up for clean drinking water, our environment and vulnerable Michiganders across the region by vetoing the torrent of bad ideas that are heading his way.

The final chapter of Snyder’s legacy is about to be written.

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Fri, 12/14/2018 - 4:51pm

Why would he? Better question. Will the democrats ruin our economy at a fast pace or slow pace and then blame it on republicans? I thought this publication touted itself as unbiased. Glad I decided against donating to this.

Sat, 12/15/2018 - 10:46am

Nobody cares about your money. Nobody

Michelle Hurd R...
Sat, 12/15/2018 - 1:35pm

Troy, this article is an “opinion” piece. The opinion piece was written by an individual not associated with Bridge. Your decision to not donate is disingenuous. I would suggest the author made cogent arguments assessing the facts surrounding Line 5, the posture of the governor and the lame duck sabotage of democracy.

Leslie Landau
Sat, 12/15/2018 - 11:06am

The lame duck legislators are jamming dangerous legislation down Michiganders' throats as if we are foie gras geese.

Ryan Duffy
Sun, 12/16/2018 - 7:35pm

Line 5 is important infrastructure for Michigan – serving propane needs, moving Michigan production and providing crude supply to refineries that serve the State. Enbridge’s Line 5 is pivotal to the quality of life most people in Michigan enjoy and to the State’s economy. On an average day, Line 5 delivers 540,000 barrels (22.68 million gallons) of light crude oil and natural gas liquids to refineries in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Detroit, Toledo and Sarnia, Ontario. Line 5 is part of a larger energy infrastructure system serving Michigan and the region and is a critical infrastructure element ensuring the safe transportation of the following:
• 80 percent of Michigan-produced crude oil – the oil produced by Michigan companies located throughout northern Michigan that reach refinery markets because of Line 5;
• Enough natural gas liquids to meet 55 percent of the State of Michigan’s overall propane demand;
• Enough natural gas liquids to meet 65 percent of the UP’s propane demand, including peak volumes in winter months that cannot be met with trucks or barges.
• Enbridge pays around $50 million in property taxes to the counties that Line 5 crosses.

Line 5 is also an important piece of the larger oil and natural gas industry in Michigan which:
• Supported 47,105 jobs in 2015
• Drove a total $13.6 billion in economic output, making up 3 percent of the State’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015
• Generated approximately $419 million in state and local taxes, including $146 million in sales tax and $160 million in local property taxes

Ryan Duffy
Lansing, MI

John Tiemstra
Mon, 12/17/2018 - 11:57am

Line 5 is dangerous and needs to be shut down, not replaced. Enbridge has demonstrated that they do not adequately build and maintain their pipelines for safety. Witness the big spill they had in the Kalamazoo River a few years ago. If such a thing happened in the Mackinac Strait, the damage would be incalculable. Furthermore, the climate change problem means that we have to wean ourselves off the use of fossil fuels, and the faster the better. There is no future in petroleum, and the last thing we should be doing is investing in expensive petroleum infrastructure that will have to be retired soon anyway.

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 7:14pm

So given your standard of performance, I assume you don't ride in cars, bikes or anything subject to malfunction (or God help us emit CO2)? Or does it only apply to things you disapprove of? In your favor at least you honestly admit your objective is to strangle all petroleum infrastructure. But of course no one on your side dares to take honest and direct action and tax carbon, but instead insist on this chicken way around the barn hoping the public is dumb and will blame the oil companies for high prices!